David Crisafi is the co-founder and executive director of L.A.U.N.C.H for Life, a nonprofit in Midlothian that serves young men ages 10-16 years old who live in the greater Richmond Area. Their free 12-month program enriches the lives of young men in need of a positive male role model. David recently met with Midlothian Lifestyle to discuss the ways in which this all-volunteer organization supports our local communities.
LAUREL: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO START L.A.U.N.C.H FOR LIFE?
DAVID: I grew up in a fatherless home and it had a great impact on me throughout my life, especially during adolescence. Early on, I watched my mom struggle to raise my sister and me by herself, living in a one-bedroom duplex with government assistance and support from our church.
As I reflect back, my mom made sure I wanted for nothing, even putting the original Air Jordans shoes on layaway for my 7th birthday, which took her a year to pay off. But the reality is, I was missing something; I was missing that positive male role model. When you are a boy, growing into a man, you need someone you can relate to, who can offer you guidance, and provide empathy for the ups and downs you will experience. My mom did a great job, but she could never understand what it’s like to be a confused and hormonal 12-year-old adolescent young man because she’s never experienced it.
That’s where we came up with the saying, “You can’t be, what you can’t see,” because we recognize that as we grow up and search for our own identity, we look to model after people we can relate to, people who have had the same experiences as us.
LAUREL: WHAT VALUES GUIDE THE MISSION AND WORK AT L.A.U.N.C.H FOR LIFE?
DAVID: Our values are Leadership, Accountability, Unity, compassioN, Community, and Honor. Compassion is our keystone value, which is why we call it out especially.
These values are intrinsic to the growth and development of boys into adolescence and adulthood. When boys grow up in homes with absent fathers or without positive role models, they are more likely to disengage in school and life, engage in offending behavior, and suffer from mental health challenges.
Our mentoring program aims to break that cycle and our values are our touchstone to achieving our mission. Each value builds off the other, putting participating young men in the best position to succeed while being a representative of something bigger than themselves. Our values drive empowerment, self-worth, and resilience.
LAUREL: HOW DOES YOUR 12-MONTH PROGRAM WORK?
DAVID: We begin each year with our three-day camp in August, and then have two events per month through the end of May. Most of the events take place on Sundays and we follow the Chesterfield County Schools schedule. Each one of our events is meant to provide these young men with unique experiences and is paired with a value focus where we execute a lesson plan that highlights that value. The year ends with a graduation, and we treat it very much like a high school graduation, where each graduate is provided a diploma.
LAUREL: WHAT IS REQUIRED TO PARTICIPATE IN YOUR PROGRAM?
DAVID: We require that the mentee attend at least 1 event a month for the duration of the 12-month program. There are NO other restrictions or qualifications, as we strive to be inclusive and culturally competent. Any young man, aged 10 to 16-years-old, in need of a positive male role model is welcome at L.A.U.N.C.H for Life.
LAUREL: WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE 12-MONTH PROGRAM?
DAVID: After graduation, mentees have an opportunity to join our Graduate Program with their mentors. This program is also 12 months and is skill/project based. We have teamed up with various organizations to teach these young men skills that may interest them as a hobby or career.
LAUREL: HOW DO YOU FIND AND CONNECT WITH THESE YOUNG MEN?
DAVID: We take a very grassroots effort to identify and recruit mentees. We have worked with organizations like Communities in Schools, Chesterfield County Detention Center, and youth sports associations. But many of our mentees come from our personal connections and word of mouth, and that has been a big part of our recruitment efforts because everyone involved, including the parents of these young men, has seen the positive impact of this program.
LAUREL: WHAT SUPPORT SERVICES DO YOU OFFER FOR MOTHERS AND GUARDIANS?
DAVID: Each month our Family Support Group hosts an event for the caregivers that coincide with their son’s event. This gives these caregivers the opportunity to relax, share experiences, and build a community of support so they don’t feel like they are doing it alone. We also provide the family with a list of community resources, training, and job opportunities.
LAUREL: TELL US ABOUT YOUR TEAM.
DAVID: My team is absolutely amazing! From the Board of Directors to the volunteers to the mentors, these are all men and women who have a passion for this mission and have sacrificed their own time, money, and expertise to make L.A.U.N.C.H for Life successful. What I love about my team is that they are very diverse and bring a tremendous amount of life and professional experience to L.A.U.N.C.H for Life.
While each group is important, I would like to recognize our mentors, because without them we can’t have a mentoring program. They go through a rigorous vetting process that includes a national background investigation and are required to attend several training sessions per year.
LAUREL: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR RECENT CAMP AND BBQ EVENTS.
DAVID: Our 3-day camp is a fun and exciting opportunity for the mentors and mentees to begin that trust process and build their relationship. It also allows them to learn what L.A.U.N.C.H is all about, what to expect, and an introduction to the values we will teach throughout the year.
We also recently held our second annual BBQ. It was the first time we had both the new mentees and our graduates attend together. In between enjoying some delicious food, we played kickball, basketball, and touch football, and the mentees also had the opportunity to learn about their mentors' professions. We also had a caregiver event nearby where they shared some food, conversation, and were guided through a painting course. The most powerful aspect of this event was the real-time demonstration of community in action.
LAUREL: DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING EVENTS?
DAVID: Yes! Mission Laser Tag will be on November 6. Our Thanksgiving Celebration will be held on November 20. And our Tacky Light Tour will take place on December 11.
Learn more, donate, or get involved at: thelaunchforlife.com